Should plastic shopping bags be regulated?
Among the skills students in New York State are now expected master is writing the source-based argument.
One way to help middle school students gain experience with this required skill is to use a current event as the focus for argument. A current event is likely to provide multiple texts presenting opposing viewpoints which become the sources. Students read and annotate the texts, formulate claims and construct formal argumentative essays using information in the texts to support their discussions.
NOTE: This will eat up about three weeks of class time and you do have to search for appropriate texts. But my experience with this has been so positive that I would say it was well worth the time invested.
I searched for articles about regulating plastic shopping bags. I just googled the issue and scrolled through the entries. I found six texts published in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post. The texts I ended up with presented opposing viewpoints and were accessible enough for most of my 8th grade readers. I knew some kids would require more support than others. So I created a series of graphic organizers to accompany each of the six texts. These organizers were designed to help kids extract relevant information.For my struggling readers, I created specific organizers to meet their needs.
First, I introduced the issue in the form of a question: Should plastic bags be regulated? In assigned teams, kids brainstormed what they already knew about this issue and each team submitted three comments and three questions. We created a class chart where each team recorded comments and questions.
I kept the kids in their teams while I introduced the basic format of the classical argument. I simplified that structure–without dumbing it down–into five paragraphs where writers introduce the issue and claim, prove the claim and refute the counterclaim. I let each team work collaboratively to come up with an outline format that they would use when they started writing.
- We started reading the texts, whole class, using a modified Socratic method. While we read, kids applied their annotation skills, using both ink and highlighters to mark specifics related to the question. After reading, kids completed the graphic organizers designed for each text. Knowing that middle school kids sometimes need an incentive, I made this part of the work carry a quiz grade and as long as kids made an obvious effort, they could earn a boost to their quarter grades. As we worked our way through each reading, we discussed the details and statistics. Sometimes I put kids in pairs to compare notes. As we read, I brought in the types of bags mentioned in the articles to give kids a sense of what each bag looked and felt like. When we had completed all the texts, we looked back at the comments and questions the teams had come up with at the start of the unit.
4. Then it was time to draft. I gave kids two full class periods and two nights at home in which to write a first draft. They used their outlines, annotated texts, and graphic organizers. When they arrived in class with their essays, I had set up four revising stations where they could revisit their writing in a structured manner. At each station, students found task cards directing them to check their work for structure, evidence, mechanics, language use. There was also a final checklist so kids could be sure they included everything required for success. They used red pens and highlighters on their own drafts. I wasn’t sure how this part was going to work out because it was something new. I ended up using two class periods for this because kids took it so seriously.
5. Finally, kids redrafted and the results were good. Even the struggling readers/writers were able to fulfill the basic demands of the tasks. The more accomplished students found their voices. In a post-writing protocol, all students said this was a positive writing experience.
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